Dependable Erection

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Resource allocation

So here i am feeling a little bit guilty for posting to the PAC2 listserve last night, asking about enforcement mechanisms for reducing the volume of sound coming from some of our 120 decibel rolling concert halls.

Guilty because, in the scheme of things, this not violent violation, while a quality of life issue for a number of folks in the city, pales next to breaking and entering, assault, rape, murder, and other crimes that the Durham Police Department is charged with both preventing and capturing perpetrators of.

So what a surprise to read the following in the INDY today:
On April 16, I became a criminal almost without realizing it.

I let my dog off his leash in a public park.

Walking with some neighbors and their dogs, two of us had let our pets briefly run free. No one else was in that part of the park, so letting a couple of young and active dogs have a little fun seemed like the natural thing to do. (And we always clean up after them when necessary.) Plus, our frustration over Durham's months-delayed opening of the dog park in our neighborhood was strong.

Our area has its share of petty crimes. An occasional minor burglary, vandalism or attempted scam seem to be common nearly everywhere.

But on Easter weekend, someone was arrested on my street for selling heroin out of his mother's house. A woman was attacked on a jogging trail a few weeks ago. We've seen discarded condoms on the path to the dog park. An abandoned car sat across from a church for nearly a week before the police finally tagged it. (It took at least three phone calls.) And there are strong suspicions of drug deals happening in the park at night.

So the zeal of the Durham police officer who spotted us and pursued us through the park was particularly galling.

By the time he caught up with us he was out of breath, pale and determined. We were issued citations with $25 fines, plus $110 in court costs, and given trial dates. Yes, we could just pay the fines. Why was the court cost necessary if we didn't go to court? "You'll have to speak to the magistrate about that" was the answer.

It serves us to remember why leash laws were first written. In the idyllic, rural, and almost imaginary pre-World War II America of our dreams, the family dog was never confined, always came when called, never dug up the neighbors' roses or shit in the walkway. (Well, except for Toto.) But after the war, as suburbia became the new model lifestyle, letting the dog out in the morning to take car of his business became a bit of a problem. Loose dogs would knock over the trash, leave their shit anywhere, occasionally form packs and attack some unsuspecting 3rd grader. On the other hand, many dog owners refused to beleive that their cute little puppy was capable of such destructive behavior, and what kind of fascists were they anyway who would insist on putting Fido on a leash at all times? (Read a history of one town's 1959 adoption of leash laws, and subsequent attempts at revision, here.)

From the overly restrictive, all dogs must be on leashes at all times philosophy which reigned in the 80s, we've evolved into the creation of voluntary, open spaces where leash laws are suspended (dog parks). I'm pretty sure that Berkeley, CA created the first official dog park back in the early 90s, although i can't cite a source for that. In 2007, most US urban areas have at least one dog park. In some cities, large numbers of small pocket parks are set aside throughout the city as designated off leash areas. Dog parks are a recognition that the problem was not that dogs were off leash, the problem was that some behaviors of off leash dogs were destructive and dangerous.

That's why it's so amazing to me that a Durham Police officer, not responding to any complaint of aggressive or dangerous behavior, would cite a couple of citizens in a park with their dogs off leash. As i've said before, during my last dog's 10 years, i was able to find numerous locations where she could run off leash without bothering anyone, or being bothered. At one point, some neighbors would call the police at 7am to report an off leash dog in Oval Park, where i lived at the time, but such reports werenever responded to quickly, and i soon learned about another location in the Watts-Hillandale neighborhood that was just as amenable to her running around without a leash.

Maybe this new-found zealousness to enforce laws of this kind can be channeled by our police officers into writing a couple of noise ordinance violations against some of our louder mobile neighbors? I mean, if they've got the time to chase down a coupel of people with dogs off leash, i won't feel like they're neglecting more serious issues.



  • I don't this is a new effort at enforcement, as a couple friends of mine were charged with the same thing 3-4 years ago. Maybe it's just very sporadically or selectively enforced. I do feel that there are probably better things for the city to spend its time on.

    By Blogger Joe, at 4:34 PM  

  • the question is, were your friends pretty much by themselves, or were they in a place where their dogs were disturbing others, prompting a complaint?

    i keep hearing that the police are busy all the time responding to complaints, and knowing how many times i've called for service over the past 5 years, i believe it. but issuing a citation for an off-leash dog without a complaint from anyone seems a bit too proactive to me.

    If the perp decides to contest the charge in court, doesn't that mean the issuing officer is obliged to spend the day waiting aroudn for the case to be called? don't the police pretty much hate doing that, especially for trivial cases like this?

    quite frankly, that's why i've been told that noise ordinance violations are seldom cited; because they're always contested, and the cops don't have the time to spend hanging around the courtroom to testify on noise ordinance cases.

    By Blogger Barry Ragin, at 4:42 PM  

  • i think they should take it to court, and protest that the city, by improperly delaying the opening of the dog park, created an untenable situation for dog owners, and that the fine is egregious and discriminatory. they can make the oh-so-righteous officer look like the idiot/bully he is. this is pretty darn ridiculous, as everyone seems to agree, when we have so many more pressing issues.

    speaking of which, what about the unlicensed junkyard operating behind a house on Club near the beaver pond?

    it's one thing to claim policing by the "broken windows" theory of small offenses leading to bigger ones (a theory which actually has been pretty much discredited in later research, but still keeps cropping up because people like the *sound* of it) - its quite another to police randomly and with no particular respect to building community.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:39 PM  

  • the illegal junkyard operating at, i think, 602 E. Club, is a question for the Planning Department, which has jurisdiction in those matters, not the Police Department.

    Planning is almost always a complaint driven department (except when they're dealing with sign posted on utility poles advertising National Night out, but that's another story).

    Photos of the junkyard have been circulated on the PAC2 list. Why not call the Planning Department and ask what steps they've taken to deal witht hesituation?

    By Blogger Barry Ragin, at 10:09 PM  

  • IIRC, neither their dog nor the other party's dog was bothering anyone. But now that I think about it, I seem to remember that it was a Duke cop who wrote the ticket, not a Durham one. So maybe that was the reason. The officer in question actually had trouble writing the complaint, as his pen wasn't working, so he invented an excuse and left rather than write tickets for both my friends and the other people. So they clearly weren't too invested in citing someone. As you can tell, this is all second-hand recollection on my part.

    By Blogger Joe, at 1:09 PM  

  • Duke police i can understand. After the whole "Dog Club" deal on east campus in the late 90s, Duke Police made a great effort to be allowed to enforce the county's leash laws on campus. Whenever i see someone playing with an off-leash dog on east campus, i try to let them know that Duke Police will be happy to write them a ticket for the offense, whether or not someone complains. They don't have much else to do anyway.

    It's Durham police that i have a problem with writing tickets for well behaved off-leash dogs tht aren't bothering anyone.

    By Blogger Barry Ragin, at 1:16 PM  

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